Ironically, a Movie that Needs to Trim the Fat

If the current Hollywood motto is not officially “everything old is new again,” then it probably should be.  Having already essentially exhausted the available television shows and movies from the 1980s, Hollywood is now looking to the 1990s to find material ripe for a remake, update, or long-overdue sequel.  The most recent example is Baywatch, a hard R adaptation of the 1990s series best known for its pretty people in swimsuits running on the beach in slow-motion.

The movie opens by introducing us to Mitch Buchannon, the well-liked head lifeguard of the prestigious Baywatch lifeguard team.  Saving lives and keeping the beach safe is all in a day’s work for Mitch, but he can’t do it alone.  The opening act of the movie focuses on tryouts as the team is looking for three new recruits.  Reluctantly, Mitch must accept as one of these recruits the gold medal-winning swimmer Matt Brody, who has since fallen out of the public’s favor and needs a fresh start.   The other recruits are the physically out-of-shape but determined Ronnie and a young woman named Summer, who seems such a perfect fit it is surprising she was not already a member of the team.

Dwayne Johnson as Mitch in BaywatchMeanwhile, the new owner of a local club is making shady deals with politicians at the same time that a deadly drug keeps finding its way onto Mitch’s beach.  It is blatantly obvious to Mitch that the two are connected, but the police frown on his lack of evidence.  And so Mitch, along with fellow veterans Stephanie and CJ, must throw their trainees straight into the deep end while they investigate the wrongdoings going on in and around their beach.

As expected, the movie has plenty of shots of pretty people running in slow-motion wearing swimsuits, and why shouldn’t it?  After all, that was “the brilliance” of the show as once said by fictional fan Chandler Bing on Friends, another popular show from the same era.  Unfortunately, the movie does not have much else going on except for a string of poorly executed gags, many of which are on the raunchier side and cannot be saved from drowning despite the efforts of the charming cast.

The movie is plagued by a problem that has been all too prevalent in comedies of the past decade or so in that the film does not know when or how to move on from a joke.  An early example in this movie is a scene in which Jon Bass’ Ronnie finds himself is a similar predicament to what Ben Stiller’s characters suffered in the beginning of 1998’s There’s Something About Mary.  Whereas the gag in that movie continued to build and build until cutting away at just the right time—Roger Ebert once said that the movie deserved an Oscar nomination for editing based on that scene alone—in Baywatch, the gag progresses very unevenly and right when the movie does seem to be cutting away from it at a good time, it hangs around for another couple minutes and tries to mine another laugh out of it.

The worst part is that this long gag is going on right when the movie should be setting up its plot and characters.  The gag in There’s Something About Mary actually served to develop Ben Stiller’s character and the embarrassment that continued to haunt him for years.  Here it is only a gag that plays little role in the actual development of the Ronnie character.

The inconsistent pacing of the gags in the movie seems most likely a result of the filmmakers allowing their actors too much freedom to improvise their dialogue and forcing the editors to do the best they can with the material they end up getting, rather than carefully crafting the gag in the screenplay and/or storyboards.  The movie runs nearly a full two hours and feels bloated.  There is a lot of fat throughout the movie—in the jokes, certainly not the actors—and it feels like if they could have cut enough here and there to trim the movie down by about twenty minutes, it might have improved the film’s pacing and allowed it to be more entertaining.

Because by all rights, Baywatch should be an entertaining movie.  The talent is certainly there. Dwayne Johnson is perhaps the most charming movie star we have working right now and that certainly comes through again here.  Zac Efron has also found some success in recent comedies and is appealing here, even though his performance is almost completely overshadowed by a physique that looks like it was Photoshopped from a still out of the movie 300.  Priyanka Chopra goes big as the movie’s villain and Kelly Rohrbach hits all the right notes filling the CJ role played by Pamela Anderson in the original show.

Like all comedies, Baywatch will make you laugh at times, and in the tradition set forth by the television show there is plenty to ogle.  But so much potential is wasted in a movie that spends too much of its running time drowning in jokes that cannot be rescued.

Baywatch is rated R for “language throughout, crude sexual content, and graphic nudity.”  The movie version of the show could never be broadcast on network television without some serious editing.  It aims for nothing less than the R rating it got.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of Baywatch.